Sunday night presents to us the biggest game the Carolina Panthers have played in nearly 5 years. If they Panthers can somehow pull out a victory against the Saints in New Orleans and the division title is the Panthers to lose. A loss in New Orleans would force the Panthers to require a little help from here on out from around the league.
Either way, Panthers fans once again are excited about a December game, and that is something worth celebrating in and of itself.
The Saints also know how important this game is.
"We know what's at stake," Drew Brees said. "... This game is the most important game of the season."
Drew Brees and the Saints are notorious for downplaying the significance of individual games. Not this week.
Saints coach Sean Payton agrees.
"It is playing an important game with regards to the division," Payton said. "It's a Sunday night game at home, those are things that you get excited about. I think at this point in the year playing in a division race like we are, I think both teams will be ready and excited.
According to NOLA.com , Saints defense is struggling on third down....
But since holding Dallas to 0-for-9 on third down Nov. 10, that number has been creeping back up. The San Francisco 49ers converted 6-of-15 (40 percent) of their third downs, while the Atlanta Falcons were 6-of-12. The Seahawks were 7-of-14 on third down Monday, a season high for the Saints' defense. In contrast, Carolina allowed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to convert just 1-of-10 third downs last Sunday. "We've just got to execute," said Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro. "We haven't been getting off the field as much on third down."
Giving up 50% of third down conversions over the last month is nothing to write home about and has much to do with why the Saints are 4-3 in the last 7 games. Looks for heavy doses of Mike Tolbert on third downs to loosen up the Saints defense even more.
Drew Brees knows the Panthers Defense is top shelf...
"They're excellent," Brees said. "There's not a defense that's playing better than these guys. In every statistical category they're tops. Playing with a lot of confidence, they don't have a weak link."
Brees sees the game on Sunday night as an opportunity for vindication. He has a national platform to show the rest of the league the Saints are not the team that was whooped on Monday night, but rather a Superbowl contender. I expect to see the Saints come out throwing on Sunday night.
If the Panthers can keep it close in the first half, I like their chances. I am not sure they can keep up with New Orleans on their home turf if they go down by two scores. Mike Shula needs to have a solid game plan to move the ball efficiently from the first whistle. A few early punts could be the difference in the game.